Genre: Extreme Sports
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: November 15, 2007
The Tony Hawk series has been on somewhat of a downhill slope lately. Some might say that it all culminated with Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam for the Wii, which was tepidly received. Electronic Art's Skate only managed to accentuate many of the flaws in the Tony Hawk franchise. Those who nodded in agreement after reading the above statements have obviously been paying attention to only a small portion of this delicious tale of intrigue. You see, the portable Tony Hawk titles have been soaring — even Downhill Jam, ironically — and Tony Hawk's Proving Ground for the DS continues that trend.
Proving Ground spins a tale not unlike your average episode of "Pimp My Ride," only in this case, replace "Ride" with "Skate Park," and instead of marveling while Xzibit and company deftly change an old heap of junk into some kind of automobile-mansion hybrid, Tony Hawk watches — and occasionally yawns — while you skate around and make money to build up your skate park. Really though, that's more than enough backdrop for a sports title, and it allows for plenty of the trademark humor and quirky characters Tony Hawk fans so love.
As mentioned earlier, recent portable Tony Hawk games have managed to out-fun their console brethren, and Proving Ground is a perfect illustration of the reason for that superiority. See, back in the PS1 days, Tony Hawk's gameplay structure lent itself perfectly to portability, but the technology just wasn't sufficient to realize that potential. As the series progressed, it began to heap on new gameplay elements and complexities until it lost much of the simplicity that made it such a widespread hit. Now, like an overly ambitious child's toy block tower, the series is teetering and ready to crumble under its own weight.
Proving Ground represents a return to the simplicity of the series' fourth installment, when it advanced to an open-world structure yet kept its smoothly paced, goal-oriented nature. Levels are free to be explored, but aren't so large that you have to fear getting lost; the touch-screen typically displays a map that makes doubly sure you keep track of your location. Similarly, the aforementioned quirky characters are littered about the levels, so you won't be without a goal unless you choose to ignore the skating hobos, "Men in Black" wannabes and occasional pro-skaters — all of whom pay you to perform extremely dangerous stunts.
Generally, goals must be completed within one- to two-minute intervals and earn you different amounts of cash based on the skill level at which you perform. Due to this design decision, the game is quite accessible; there are three skill levels — Am, Pro and Sick — and your performance on each goal decides your skill level. Theoretically, it's possible to advance through the game by passing each goal on the Am level (short for amateur) — even Tony Hawk neophytes shouldn't have much trouble with that. Sick goals present quite a steep challenge and should sate the appetites of even the most advanced players, and the money isn't too bad, either.
That's where the "Pimp my Ride" aspect comes into play: The money you earn is spent on new parts for your personal skate park. Either that, or you can purchase new clothing for your skater, but then you'd be ignoring one of Proving Ground's coolest features.
If this title is any evidence, Tony Hawk is always on top of the latest trends in the world of skating; Proving Ground's most DS-centric feature embodies this fact. Apparently, after a long day of skating, the hippest skaters gather together to show off their most stylish clothing designs. But you know what? It works wonderfully. Whenever you desire, you can use the DS touch-screen to draw on shirts, pants and skateboards. Instead of having you draw on a shirt- or pants-shaped pattern, the game presents you with a square upon which you can express your deepest artistic dreams. The square translates your creations onto clothing in a manner resembling that of the "paper snowflakes" you might've created during your childhood. Then, you can direct your Internet browser of choice over to Proving Ground's web site to exchange designs with fellow fashion desi– … er, skaters.
But what about the actual skating? Well, it's more or less par for the course. All of the requisite abilities you'd expect from a Tony Hawk title are present and accounted for. Quite frankly, that's the only real issue this game has; if you've played other Tony Hawk games, you're not going to see anything mind-blowing here. Sure, there are some well-designed levels on which to utilize your skating prowess, but that trick system has remained basically unchanged since the series' inception. Ardent Hawk supporters point to the old maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but few can deny that Tony Hawk's particular brand of skating is getting more than a little long in the tooth at this point.
But among the many modes that obscure the shortcomings of Tony Hawk's basic gameplay, online multiplayer may be the most impressive. You name it, Proving Ground's multiplayer has it. Voice chat? Check. Friends Lists? Of course. Exclusive modes and web site interaction not even featured in the console editions of the game? Surprisingly enough, yes. Without a doubt, Proving Ground's multiplayer is more robust than just about anything on the Nintendo DS — save for maybe the other DS Tony Hawk games.
The game's graphics, however, don't fare so favorably when compared to those of its console counterparts; and disappointingly enough, they don't even fare well when compared to previous DS iterations of the series. This stems from Proving Ground's somewhat perplexing removal of the cel-shaded style that so suited the feel of the series and, more importantly, the hardware on which the game runs. So instead of a slightly lo-fi, yet aesthetically pleasing experience, we're presented with a drab world populated by characters with faces so blurry, you might be led to believe that Neversoft was unable to secure the rights to many of the real people they attempt to digitally represent — and in some cases, their own fictional characters as well.
Do you enjoy "The Pretender" by the Foo Fighters? If so, you're much more likely to enjoy Proving Ground's soundtrack — because while it's composed of a fair amount of licensed music, "The Pretender" tends to come up a lot in the shuffle mode. By and large, the soundtrack is made up of modern rock, and the sound quality is respectable once you realize that it's coming from the DS' little speakers that could. Voice acting is used sparingly — Tony Hawk's confident utterance of, "Hey!" seems to convey all he needs to tell you, whether he's trying to get your attention or being run over by your skateboard, but it's a nice touch that adds to the game's personality.
Proving Ground for the DS is the Tony Hawk series' most respectable effort in quite some time. If you've never played a Tony Hawk game, don't even hesitate to buy it. If you're a series veteran, however, that "buy" rating is less advisable. Definitely give it a rental, but don't be surprised if you feel significant amounts of déjà vu upon completion of your first improbably high jump and subsequent spin trick. Tony Hawk needs a revamp, but Proving Ground is a nice farewell to the series' current formula. It's too bad that the formula probably isn't going anywhere.
More articles about Tony Hawk's Proving Ground